by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake Theme of Foreignness and 'the Other'
In The Namesake, characters are constantly making comparisons between Indian and American life. For Indian immigrants such as Ashima and Ashoke, many aspects of American culture are foreign to them, and they also feel like strangers in American society. They struggle to maintain certain Indian traditions, while adapting to American customs, such as Christmas, for the sake of their children. Indian-American characters such as Gogol and Moushumi often feel foreign in both India and America, as though they're lost in between the world of their parents and the world in which they were born. They often feel like tourists, only, unlike most tourists, they have no chance of a homecoming.
Questions About Foreignness and 'the Other'
- What are some Bengali customs that the Gangulis maintain in the United States? Why do you think they choose to keep those particular traditions alive and kicking?
- How do Ashima and Ashoke feel about India? What about their children? What about India feels foreign to Gogol and Sonia? Does anything feel familiar?
- In many ways, Gogol's girlfriends are foreign to him because their upbringings were so different. What, in particular seems foreign about Maxine? And what about Moushumi? Are there ways in which she is foreign to Gogol, too, despite their shared pasts?
- When does Gogol feel most foreign in America – as Gogol, or as Nikhil? When does he feel most at home?
Chew on This
Gogol's romances with Anglo-American girlfriends don't last because they can't possibly understand how different he feels, even though he is attracted to them precisely because they seem foreign to his experience.
Traveling to India actually makes Gogol feel less connected to the Indian part of his heritage.